OPINION: Vegan Junk Food is an All-New Environmentally Friendly Nutritional Nightmare

By William Angus

4th May 2022

(Vegan junk food like this is sometimes deceptive in its marketing. Photograph: Marco Verch on flickr)

The ideological clash that has occurred between meat-eaters and vegans has bubbled away for years, recently gaining traction as climate crisis contributors become more prescient in all our minds. This disparity has led to some interesting developments in the food industry, which have opened new avenues for climate conscious-eaters to explore.

This development has seen a new alternative emerge – vegan junk food, straight off the supermarket shelf. To call it revolutionary would undermine the thousands of chefs who have toiled over homemade vegan junk food alternative recipes, but what industrial food scientists have achieved has revolutionised this food sector.

The innovative new food science involved allows the development of these new foodstuffs through ‘ultra-processing’. Base products such as soya are put through the wringer with intense procedures of emulsification, colourisation and cosmetic additives. The end result is an eerie mix between the wonders of food science and visual trickery.

What it is not is your favourite fast food establishments’ half-baked attempt at appeasing an ever-growing vegan demographic. For all their meatless merits, fast food chains continue to have a gigantic carbon footprint, emitting more CO2 than entire nations.

This new supermarket vegan junk food sector has much more promise than fast food, namely in its environmental impact. By 2030, 15 million tonnes of soya beans per year will be grown here in Europe rather than relying on supply from abroad, reducing transport emissions and fuelling continental economies. Supermarkets are being forced to adapt to this new influx of products, creating a wide array of consumer choices when it comes to vegan junk food.

So what can you expect to find on your local shop shelves? Pepperoni Pizza, Shwarma, Jerky and Ice Cream are just a few of the many extravagances stocked in supermarkets across Scotland. Some are meals/dishes in and of themselves, while others are just the base that forms part of a larger ‘fakeaway’ feast.

It allows a greater degree of freedom for vegans to open up their diet while simultaneously reaching out to non-vegans, challenging them to try junk food alternatives. To have such freedom of choice within the confines of a supermarket should be celebrated.

However, all consumers should be aware of the health benefits – or lack of – of these new products. Like their nutritionally devoid counterparts, the nutritional value of these products leaves much to be desired. Many of the main courses on offer remain high in saturated fats, while desserts continue to exceed daily sugar allowances in a single portion.

The Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team found while vegans consumed the most ultra-processed foods, their nutritional quality over a full diet was found to be the highest. In this instance, a ‘typical’ vegan based on this study would have no problem incorporating a degree of vegan junk food into their lifestyle when you consider the nutritional advantage they already hold over other diets.

Despite this, the advice remains similar – The Vegan Society advise consuming all junk foods in moderation, focussing more on a balanced, varied diet including all of the major food groups. There are also other ways to ‘veganise’ your favourite dishes for a healthier final dish without too much extra work. Moderation is certainly the way forward with these junk food products, the value in them comes from the days when you have earned them.

So where does this leave us? Some of these favourites are being offered to give those dietarily inclined a chance to experience a vegan side to their diet slightly easier than making a full switch and losing their regular dieting habits. For vegans, there is an opportunity to explore veganism in a different way without compromising their beliefs.

However, be under no illusions – this is not an overnight net-zero industry and ultimately vegan junk food is just an indulgence for those who are lucky enough to afford it. What can be said is that it gives those in need of a treat or those less keen on their fruits and vegetables a chance to save a few precious kilos of CO2 emissions, opening new or familiar food avenues to pioneer.

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